Mr. Clark stood up and knocked his chair over. “What?”
Momoko narrowed her eyes and murmured to me, “He’s joking, right?”
“That’s not happening,” I snarled.
Killian held up a hand. “Wait a moment and think about what I’ve said. I’m asking you to stay at Drake Hall, and you already want to be here to receive training. If you keep a room here, it will be easier for you—and if you want to bring some of your wizards with you we’ll clear out rooms for them, too.”
“You can’t suddenly demand that I spend a week with you every month,” I warned him.
“I understand,” Killian said. “The length of your stay will be up to your discretion, but I will require a minimum of one night per month.”
“There’s something fishy about this.” Though Felix spoke in a lowered tone, I knew the vampires still heard him with their superior senses.
I combed a hand through the wild mess of my blond hair. “Why?” I asked.
“You are referring to?”
“Why do you want me to stay?” I pursed my lips as I studied the vampire. “Everything I’ve asked for has a clear reason. What do you get out of this?”
Killian’s smile turned bemused—but not smug. No, it was almost…sad? “Isn’t it obvious, Hazel?”
He stared at me with such intensity, my nerves made me look away. “I agree to your terms,” I said.
Great Aunt Marraine grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “Adept, are you sure about this?”
“Yes,” I said. “Though he’ll try to boss us all around and might have a go at making you all wear suits whenever you’re here, he’s not going to physically hurt us. He’ll suddenly turn colder than a prissy mean girl in high school, but we can roll with that.”
“Such an admirable depiction of me,” Killian mused as he considered an unopened blood pouch.
“You’ll have the papers drawn up?” I asked. “We’ll have to register them through the Curia Cloisters before we can sign them.”
Killian glanced at Julianne, who bobbed her head. “It’s done. Julianne will correct and format the contract. I’ll give you a copy before you leave, and submit a second copy to the Cloisters.”
I sagged a little in my chair, relieved that negotiations were over.
Killian had given in to everything I wanted—probably a ploy so he could get his one night a month. I wasn’t exactly moved by that request. It was more like I was wondering how he was going to use it—because Killian never did anything just for the heart of it.
“Splendid!” Celestina clapped her hands once and beamed at me and my wizards like a benevolent fairy godmother. “Since we’re going to be working so closely together for the foreseeable future, please allow me to give you a tour of Drake Hall as our esteemed guests!”
My retinue doubtfully looked back at me, and I felt like a mom giving permission for her kids to go play. “You guys should go,” I said. “It’s a big house, and if any of you come with me for my weekly practices, you’ll want to know your way around.”
“This way!” Celestina made her way to the door, resembling a tour guide.
I don’t think it had occurred to my family to wonder why the Drake Family’s First Knight—in other words the strongest vampire after Killian—was playing tourist with them. I was pretty sure it was because her warmer, tawny skin tone that hadn’t lost all its color when she turned and her bright personality would make them lower their guard faster. (Her personality was a tactic that had worked on me, after all.)
“Hazel,” Killian said. “Would you join me in my study?” His faint British accent was ever so slightly pronounced. But I couldn’t see anything in his expression that would indicate why.
I glanced at the door, making sure the last House Medeis wizard cleared the room. “Sure.”
“Really?” Killian blinked down at me. “I thought I’d have to try harder to pry you away from your family.”
“I’m pretty sure I know what you want to talk about,” I said. “And we’ll have to discuss it eventually. We may as well have at it now while I know they’re occupied.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate my family’s tight defense. But to make this alliance work I needed to draw clear boundaries for Killian, and given our…murky history, I didn’t really want anyone listening in, just in case he decided to drop the bombshell that we—a wizard and vampire—had kissed.
Inter-supernatural romances weren’t outlawed or anything—it was the offspring of vampires and humans that became the first vampire slayers, and the descendants of werewolves and humans had become werewolf hunters. But nowadays it was a taboo—and had been a taboo for a looong time.
Some of the races had pulled back to “protect the purity” of their bloodlines. (Give me a break.) Otherwise, it was more of a political thing, done so each race could solidify their power base. They couldn’t have us intermingling—it might make it harder when we had to fight for laws and favorable outcomes for our own people.
“Very well,” Killian said. “You know the way.”
I raised my eyebrow at him, but left the meeting room and made my way through the maze-like mansion to his study.
Killian’s study was a blend of decadence, militant tidiness, and technology.
Austere bookshelves filled with tediously sorted magical books guarded the walls, but there was also a shelf dedicated to a giant TV, a tablet, and a laptop. The tall walls had some kind of damask wallpaper, but the wooden floor was covered with a surprisingly plush rug.
He’d gotten new chairs since I’d last been there, and now there was a comfy-looking sofa in a corner that previously had been occupied by a statue of a rearing horse.
I flung myself into one of the new chairs—which was soft and cushy—then peered expectantly at Killian. “All right. I’m here. Let’s talk.”
Instead of sitting himself at his desk, Killian stood next to it, his eyes narrowed. “You know why I sent you out of Drake Hall.”
“We’ve covered this,” I said. “Yeah, I know that you did a raid on the Night Court to keep them busy so they couldn’t help Mason when I attacked him, and yeah, I know you sent the Paragon to my doorstep to ensure a fair fight, and yeah I know you kicked me out because you knew I was a prime target for the Night Court. Can we stop rehashing this?”
“Then I’m confused,” Killian said. “If you know all of that, why are you so angry with me?”
“Your motivation doesn’t excuse your behavior.”
“But I apologized.”
“Not very well,” I muttered.
“But everything worked out for the best,” Killian persisted. He leaned against his desk and tilted his head as he studied me. “And you’ve never been this angry before—not even when I dropped you off the balcony.”
I almost grinned at the memory—I’d been terrified and furious at the time, but the balcony incident had helped break the ice with the other Drake vampires, and had been my first real step toward friendship with them. At least it had been when I thought we were friends.
I reluctantly dragged my eyes up to meet his gaze.
He stared at me for several long moments, and something in his expression tightened before he adopted his slightly arrogant look he usually only used in political situations. “Is it that you can’t admit I was right?”
“Right?” I exploded out of my chair. “You think you were right? You lied to me! You could have just told me what was going on, but instead you decided to manipulate me. Things could have turned out so differently if you had just told me the fae were making stupid threats! But no, you didn’t trust me enough to stay with you, to be safe—to even handle myself! I’d worked like a dog to become a better wizard and decent in a fight and thought I’d won myself a place in this wretched hall, but you took everything because you didn’t think you could tell me the Night Court was scheming! Which—newsflash!—is all they ever do!” I snarled.
“If you think I’m so incompetent you should have just told me. Instead you chose to do everything behind my back and nudge me into what you wanted to do because obviously I can’t be trusted! And you’ll never trust me, because you don’t trust anyone that’s not a vampire!”
When I finished my tirade I heaved a few breaths, and Killian looked thoughtful. I reviewed what he’d said, compared it to the slant of his eyebrows, then pointed a finger at him. “And you just did it again! You manipulated me into yelling at you!”
“It’s hardly my fault you were so reluctant to share,” Killian pointed out. “And I can’t correct my mistake if you don’t tell me what I did.”
I angrily threw myself back down in the comfy chair. My magic had spiked a little with my emotions, so now I was hot and somewhat miserable since I’d ripped the wound open again.
“It seems that you were most offended by my lack of trust,” Killian said. “Which isn’t quite true. I trust you a great deal more than you would think.”
I gave him a withering glare. “Now that’s the stupidest lie you’ve ever tried to tell me.”
“Except it’s true.” Killian thoughtfully folded his arms across his chest. “However, I don’t trust anyone—vampire or otherwise—at the level you seem to desire.”
I opened my mouth to interrupt, but Killian must have guessed what my retort would be. “Not even Celestina and Josh,” he said. “They are comrades that I treasure, and they are probably the most capable at guessing what my plans are, but I don’t tell them.”
I folded my fingers together and stared at him.
“It’s very…difficult for me to trust anyone,” Killian continued. “I didn’t become the Eminence by good sportsmanship. Vampires in general tend to be distrustful—it’s in our nature, and frequently enforced upon us. When you live as long as we do, you are inevitably betrayed again and again, and after a while the bitterness tends to seep into even the most kind-hearted of vampires.” Killian sighed. “Though I am admittedly worse. For my own safety, for the good of vampires, and to achieve my goals I’ve learned that deep trust is a luxury I can’t afford.”